Baked beans are an all-day dish, a comforting presence in the oven, promise of good dinner to come. You do have to be home to tend them, but the amount of work baked beans require is so small that I think it's fair to call them instant, even though they are by no means a last-minute event.
1 pound King of the Early or Jacob's Cattle beans
1 large onion, peeled and stuck with 6 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
3 glugs of maple syrup (about 1/2 cup)
3/4-pound chunk of salt pork, on the rind
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1. Start right before bedtime the night before. Pick over the beans, cover generously with cold water, and set aside.
2. As soon as the breakfast dishes are done, heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Drain the beans and put half of them in your bean pot. Add the onion and bay leaf, then the rest of the beans. Add the maple syrup, then cover with cold water to come an inch above the beans, cover the pot, and put it in the oven. Once the beans are in the oven, cut the salt pork crosshatch at half-inch intervals, down to but not through the rind. Cover it with cold water and set it aside
3. About an hour later, put a kettle on at the back of the stove so you'll have hot water when you need it. Go about your business, checking on the beans from time to time and adding a bit of hot water as necessary to keep the top layer just nicely submerged.
4. Long about lunchtime, the beans should be well on their way to tenderness -- still firm but no longer crisp. Stir in the salt and dry mustard. I don't add pepper because I think long cooking wimps out the taste. It's better to put the grinder on the table and add the pepper then. Anyway, gently stir in the seasonings. Drain the salt pork and push it into the top of the beans, skin side up. The pork skin should be just at the top of the liquid. Re-cover the pot, return it to the oven, and continue to cook as before.
5. As the dinner hour approaches, start cutting back on liquid so the sauce thickens, but don't let the top layer of beans dry out. Remove the lid for the last hour of cooking so the pork skin crisps. That's it; once you embark, dinner is inevitable.